Washing machines, like dishwashers, need to be considered based on the energy to run the appliance itself, the heated water used, and the work left after the washing is complete—by the dryer. Of course, you can decrease your energy use by washing in cold water and drying with a clothesline. Then use a wisely chosen machine, and your laundry energy consumption will be the envy of your neighbors.
Features to consider include size (think carefully about what you really need), horizontal or vertical axis, whether or not the model has a water-level sensor and an option for a fast final spin. Front-loading (horizontal-axis) machines are the most energy efficient because they use less water and less electricity, and they wring out more water after the wash—and they’re easier on clothes.
Clothes washers are ranked according to their modified energy factor (MEF), the number of cubic feet of laundry that can be washed and dried using 1 kWh of electricity, and water factor (WF), the number of gallons required to wash 1 cubic foot of laundry. Conveniently, the models with the highest MEF also have a low WF. Energy Star standards require a MEF of at least 1.8 and a WF of 7.5 or less, but there are many machines that go well beyond this.
Your refrigerator cycles on and off, all day and all night. So does your neighbor’s refrigerator. And his uncle’s refrigerator. All told, refrigerators account for about 15% of U.S. residential electricity use. In the past couple of decades, refrigerators have had tremendous efficiency gains. Since 1990, energy use by models with a top-mounted freezer has been cut in half, and new standards set for 2014 will take an additional bite out of refrigerators’ electricity consumption.
The energy use of different styles of refrigerator-freezers varies. The side-by-side configuration uses more than a refrigerator with the freezer on top, with bottom-mounted freezers weighing in somewhere in between. Door-mounted ice and water dispensers increase energy use dramatically.
The models listed have capacities of about 18 cubic feet and some of the lowest electricity usage. All have top-mounted freezers and none has an in-door ice machine. Numerous models in this size range are rated at 335 kWh/year (versus the federal standard of 480 kWh/year). Most manufacturers make several models similar in efficiency to those listed here, as well as similarly efficient models of different sizes.
Before you buy a new refrigerator, take a close look at your needs; buy the smallest unit that you think is manageable. If you don’t need a freezer at all, you can lower your energy use even more. And no matter what size or model you own, don’t turn the thermostats any colder than necessary. Make sure the door seal is in good condition, and keep the fridge and freezer full (with water jugs, if not perishable food).
Karin Matchett (wordcraft at karinmatchett.com) is a writer and editor working in the Midwest and on the road. She covers topics in renewable energy, energy efficiency, woodworking, gardening, science, and medicine, and is dedicated to finding ways to rehabbing old, urban houses.
American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy • www.aceee.org
Energy Star • www.energystar.gov
Consortium for Energy Efficiency • www.cee1.org